When Harold Holt drowned I went and got a shovel from the shed and dug a hole in the vacant block next door and covered it with rose bush prunings and crawled in. I was a bespectacled child and shortly after I got in the hole a praying mantis landed on a lens of my glasses, magnifying hugely into a bloodthirsty green dragon.
I spent hours huddled in terror with this monster poised above me while my parents and sisters roamed the neighbourhood calling my name. The PM drowned and now the lad missing … what a day. But I wasn’t going to come out of my hole. I knew what they wanted, those bastards. What waited for me out there was worse than dragons and prickles.
If I emerged I would be crowned Prime Minister. And though I had a healthy opinion of myself, I knew, at six, I wasn’t quite ready. Couldn’t they fill the role with another fornicating freestyler like Holt until I turned 10? Why me? Why now?
When my family eventually found me, I broke into tears and told Mum I would rather go to jail than be Prime Minister. She said I was well on the way and promised me I wouldn’t ever have to be PM. This removed an anvil from my back. I could be a normal boy rather than a princeling.
My childish delusion of high office came about because my Dad, in moments of pride, used to tell people, “he’ll be Prime Minister one day”. I must’ve overheard him say it hundreds of times, after I’d fired off a quip or remark beyond my years. It was a thing parents regularly said about their sons then. Though, of course, not about their daughters, who were fated to be scone-burners and nags. “He’ll be Prime Minister one day” was, back then, the highest praise you could offer a boy. In fairness to my father, he never lived to see Tony Abbott pawing babies.
But if you were to say proudly of your child today, after she’d recited the names and fates of Henry VIII’s wives, or twerked her way to a gazillion thumbs-ups and pay dirt on Tik Tok, “she’ll be Prime Minister one day”, you’d be reported to the child protection people. “Hello, Child Abuse Hotline? I heard my neighbour say his little girl was going to be Prime Minister one day.” “Good God. What’s their address? We have a car on the way.”
Can you think of another office that has, in a lifetime, descended so far from the gilded peak of respect and admiration to the coal-dust valley of contempt and ridicule as that of Prime Minister? (Obviously excluding: priests, schoolteachers, professional sportsmen, festival directors, crime bosses, mining magnates, local councillors, generals, knights, housewives and anyone on a university faculty.) But how could we not lose all respect for the office, given our prime ministers invariably turn out to be mouthpieces and frontmen for money and self-interest? This current bloke, smiling like a dolphin, fending off reality with sound-bites and covert prayer, is routinely goaded by FM jocks. Which is a type of egalitarianism, I suppose.
What variety of boosterism do parents use on their children these days in moments of pride now that we’ve seen so many unwitting marionettes in the top job. “She’ll be Prime Minister one day” is a terrible thing to say about someone’s kid now. You might as well say, “she will be captured by string-pullers and used as a front, she’ll be shaking hands with charlatans and stroking babies in no time, cutting ribbons and posing with local bigmen in marginal electorates”. I guess if I’d fulfilled my father’s prediction and become Prime Minister, by the time I got there I’d be owned and wouldn’t know it, like all the others.
I’ve come to think only a person like me, who refuses to serve as Prime Minister, should be eligible for the office. That’d filter out the egomaniacs and go-betweens. Adopt the methodology the Tibetans use to select their Dalai Llama. Swoop into a silo town in the Mallee in a Blackhawk and snatch up the slowest-moving hayseed and take her to 2000ft and stand her in the doorway and tell her you’ll put a foot in her back if she refuses to be PM. If she still says “no,” turn the bird for Canberra – she’s a keeper.